Haïtian peasants have mobilised to combat massive deforestation on their island. With 50 million trees cut down each year, of which 17 million are used to make charcoal, less than 2% of the island is presently forested, a result of the deforestation which begun in colonial times and which later continued with the aid of unscrupulous foreign businesses. Charcoal represents 72% of energy consumption in the country, and is used daily by the majority of the inhabitants, who do not have electricity. The Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), at the initiative of its director, agronomist Jean-Baptiste Chavannes , has set up a programme to produce combustible briquettes made of vegetable waste, to replace charcoal and to combat the massive deforestation of the island.
The urgency of preserving trees to safeguard soil fertility and to develop sustainable farming
In order to cook, peasants continue to cut down trees to make charcoal. They sell the surplus in town to survive, in spite of the law which forbids tree cutting. This vicious circle of deforestation leads to serious consequences for farming and fishing : the lack of tree roots means that the soil cannot hold, erodes and becomes infertile. Rain becomes a serious threat, mud torrents run down hills destroying crops, flow into rivers, and kill fish. 15 million cubic metres of cultivable lands is lost every year because of erosion. The MPP has decided to react, notably by training the rural community in management and protection of the environnement, in the rational use of natural resources, in the importance of trees in the ecosystem, in the impact of deforestation on soil erosion and in the abandoning of bad farming practices (such as scorched earth). Vwa Peyizan (Peasant Voice), MMP’s community radio, is also running a vast campaign of awareness of the dangers of degradation of the environnement, and encourages other organisations present in the Central Plateau region to mobilize against deforestation.
Combustible briquettes against deforestation
To counter the process of deforestation, MMP has pursued, for more than 30 years, an agro-forestry programme, associating farming and tree-planting to check erosion and to enable farming. The programme is based on research and training in the field of alternative energy. Following the visit in 2004 of an American expert in straw briquettes, MMP has set up a programme of briquette fabrication using paper and dried leaves, an alternative to the energy produced by wood burning. After a first test of these briquettes, and a demonstration of their advantages over charcoal, thirty women have been trained in this new technique. The necessary materials, readily available (used paper, dead leaves, sawdust), are mixed and soaked in water for two days. A press then gives a rounded form to the briquettes, which are left to dry in the sun for three days. An efficient source of energy, these briquettes need further improvement, as combustion is slow, and they give off too much smoke. The MPP has thus organised exchange visits with other organisations that already have experience in this field. Meanwhile, production workshops are increasing, with the short-term aim of commercialising the briquettes.
Also read: Resonances Latin America N° 25 - June 2008